Workers Dance League, The By Prickett, Stacey
In the midst of the economic and social upheaval of America’s Great Depression, a group of young modern dancers came together in 1932 to form the Workers Dance League (WDL) in New York City. Advocating for the power of dance to change society, the WDL reached out to workers to recruit both audience members and participants. The WDL functioned as an umbrella organization, sponsoring concerts and lecture-demonstrations, as well as leading debates about the artist’s responsibility to society. Two strands of dance practice developed under the label of revolutionary dance: emerging modern dancer-choreographers (including Anna Sokolow, Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow, and José Limón), and a more agit-prop style performed by recreational groups attached to the city’s unions and cultural groups, some directed by Edith Segal. Inspired by Marxist ideals, the participants’ focus on raising consciousness of working-class identity shaped the WDL’s mission until its name change to the New Dance League in 1935. A shift occurred with the instigation of Popular Front policies by the Comintern (the Communist International), although the WDL was not officially a Communist Party organization. During its three years of existence, the WDL helped a vibrant left-wing dance movement flourish in the United States by taking dance to workers, bringing workers into the dance world, and reinforcing a proletarian identity.